Adventures in Altertions: How to Shrink Clothing

I received an e-mail question about altering sweaters/knits from a reader (Thanks Erin!) not too long ago:
Have you had any luck altering sweaters? I got a cute cardigan from J Crew that needs to be taken in. It’s Merino wool.  It’s sold out now, so I’m stuck either trying to alter it or shrink it on my own. Any help is welcome!
I have never taken a sweater in to get altered, and have heard it’s actually not very easy. My advice was to look into shrinking it a bit. Wool sweaters will shrink on their own if they are air dried after getting wet, which is a technique I’ve used a few times before. This video is pretty helpful in this technique:

This brings up an interesting topic, because before I learned to take things to a tailor to be brought in, I tried to shrink everything! I would buy something that kinda fit, cut the tags, toss it in the wash on hot, the drier on high, and hope for the best. The downside to this is obvious…if you don’t like the results of the attempted shrinking…the garment can’t be returned because you’ve just washed it! I can’t count how many items of clothing hung in my closet, unworn, because they didn’t shrink enough to wear, and I couldn’t return them. What a waste of money!
Then, there is the color loss that can occur when washing and drying a garment at high temperatures. They just never quite look the same after they’ve gone through that ringer. And let’s not forget the weird scrunching/shrinking that can happen to the details of some garments, like button plackets, or decorative accents.

 

Of course, shrinking clothing in the wash can be a cheap alternative to tailoring if you can actually get the garment to shrink in the way you want it. I stick to trying to shrink items that would not cause me to have a heart attack if something tragic were to occur, and take everything near and dear to my heart to a tailor. I also stick to wool or cotton items that only need a little bit of work, and I try to do it in increments. That is, I’ll hand wash a nice colored sweater in a mild detergent in cool water (to preserve color), and then air dry it in a warm place (near a window or door on a hot day, or in the vicinity of a heater in the house). If the garment shrinks up enough, then great! If it needs more work, I’ll resort to warmer water and higher drying heat (right next to a heater).
This video I found at The Chic Petite is pretty helpful too:

Erin, who first posed this question, came up with another creative idea:
I took a spray bottle of warm water to the areas I wanted to shrink, and stuck it in the dryer for about two minutes at a time. It worked fine!
Erin also found this company that specializes in knit piece alterations and repair. According to the website, they actually unravel the garment, and re-knit it for proper finishing, and have even been featured in Vogue several times. Garments can be sent to their Costa Mesa store if you live out of state, but I would be a little nervous not having the piece fitted in person. I suppose you could measure yourself, and tell them how much you want taken in? I would save this resource for high end knitwear from brands like Chanel, Gucci, Prada…etc.
Does anyone know of any other shrinking techniques?

Does anyone have any experience in altering sweaters/knitwear that does not include shrinking?

11 Comments

  • Reply December 30, 2009

    PetiteAsianGirl

    Thanks for this informative post! Glad I read this before trying to shrink some denim today : )

  • Reply December 30, 2009

    Jackie

    Interesting! I have to try this on some of my sweaters…

  • Reply December 30, 2009

    Zoe

    Being crafty is so handy! Keep in mind, when shrinking wool items, that stockinette stitch (the little v's) will shrink more in length than in width. When you shrink a sweater, you're felting it and that's really hard to undo. However, soaking it in hair conditioner and then gently stretching can let you make it bigger- but not much.

    Also, if you know knitters and all the sweater needs is shortening, and the gauge isn't too fine, they may be able to unravel and re-finish the bottom.

    Finally, here's a guide to home-altering a sweater. I've used a similar method and it's pretty easy. Knits stretch so they are forgiving! http://www.sweetsassafras.org/2008/01/27/how-to-alter-a-wool-sweater

  • Reply January 1, 2010

    Alterations Needed

    Good luck shrinking PAG and Jackie!

    Zoe – thanks for the tips. I need to learn more about fabric behavior and garment construction. All the little details are fascinating! Thanks for the link to sweater alteration!

  • Reply January 2, 2010

    Zoe

    They really are! Learning how to sew and how to knit has really helped me appreciated both good fabric and good fitting- and to know which is more important and when.

  • Reply January 8, 2010

    Erin

    Thanks for the shout-out! I hope my experience helps another tiny lady out there! :)

  • Reply January 8, 2010

    Alterations Needed

    Thanks Erin! You're awesome! =)

  • Reply February 6, 2010

    Anonymous

    I even shrank a wool winter coat once. I don't have a tailor who knows how to bring up the waist–just shortening the hem would not make the coat fit correctly. It worked okay but it was stressful to wash a coat in hot water and dry it on hot–breaks all rules/common sense. Texture changed only a little–coat was softer.

  • Reply March 1, 2010

    jen

    my friend casey has a blog and she posted a tutorial on how to refashion a sweater to make it more vintage. this could be useful for petites since this style is more fitted.

    http://blog.caseybrowndesigns.com/2009/12/how-to-refashion-a-cardigan/

  • Reply May 25, 2011

    Anonymous

    I even shrank a wool winter coat once. I don't have a tailor who knows how to bring up the waist–just shortening the hem would not make the coat fit correctly. It worked okay but it was stressful to wash a coat in hot water and dry it on hot–breaks all rules/common sense. Texture changed only a little–coat was softer.

  • Reply May 25, 2011

    Jackie

    Interesting! I have to try this on some of my sweaters…

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